Friday, March 8, 2013

The Transforming Nature

Scott Bradley

When a delegation from a school of the Daoists approached Zhouzi enquiring into his teachings, he said only, "Stay among us for some time, and you will see." After one week they sought the same, but again he declined. After only two weeks they approached him again and he relented.

"Master," began one, "we have yet to hear you speak of the true nature; might I enquire as to why this is so?"

"It is very much like the dragonfly," replied Zhouzi. "Are you familiar with the life cycle of this wonderful insect? What do you understand of its true nature?"

"Master," the Daoist answered, "I know only that it loves water and spends its time darting above lakes and ponds. Is not doing what it loves to do its true nature?"

"It is indeed," answered Zhouzi. "Only it spends scant time flying. It was once a stationary egg, then a swimming larva, and then it leaves its skin behind and only then takes flight. Surely you have seen these same skins cast aside by the rivers and the lakes?"

"I have," replied the Daoist, "and in this Nature shows us the power to transform into our own true nature."

"Why this bias for that which flies?" asked Zhouzi. "Does not Daoism always seek the wider view? Could we not just as easily say that it is in the stationary egg that its true nature resides, and this flying 'adult' exists only to copulate and lay it? Or that it is that which swims that shows its true nature, and it is the egg that exists to hatch it? Surely, from the point of view of the other swimmers upon which it preys, it is this swimming dragonfly that shows its true nature."

"But Master," responded the Daoist, "surely it cannot have multiple true natures."

"It can," answered Zhouzi, "if it has no fixed nature at all. A thing's true nature would then be whatever it presently is. Is the egg not perfect in itself, not merely as potentiality, but as actuality? Are not all things perfectly the things they are, as they are? Is a child less affirmable than an adult? It is the nature of things to ever-transform, thus, if we must speak of 'true nature' then it can only be a transforming nature, and a transforming nature is no fixed nature."

"And for this reason you say, "nothing to become" and "no-conditions-to-meet"! exclaimed the Daoist.

"Just so," replied Zhouzi. "All things are affirmable wherever they are in the circle of existence and in however they express it. There are eggs that fail of becoming larvae, larvae that fail of becoming fliers, fliers that fail of copulating and laying eggs; are any of them ever other than perfectly what they are? Our perfection lies in what we actuality are, not in abstract becoming.”

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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